Every year, over 2,900 people experience a fire related to their clothes dryer. These incidents are estimated to cause 5 deaths, 100 injuries, over $35 million in property damage annually. Here is everything you need to know about dryer cleaning, and easy steps for how to clean your dryer vent and help protect your family and home from dryer fire.
Why Do You Need to Clean the Dryer Vent?
Every modern clothes dryer comes with a built-in lint screen designed to help stop lint and dust from getting into the vent. Many homeowners know to clean the lint screen after every use, but that’s not the only responsibility.
Small pieces of lint, including dirt, dust, and clothing material, can pass through the lint screen and get into the dryer vent where it will build up overtime. Due to the high heat levels and potential sparks associated with a dryer's normal cycle, this buildup poses a fire risk if left uncleaned.
In addition to being a safety hazard, a clogged dryer vent can also shorten the life and lower the efficiency of your dryer. To get the most out of your dryer while reducing risk, vent cleaning is a must.
Signs Your Dryer Vent Needs Cleaning
When you're outside, you may notice lint building up around the exit vent or on the ground underneath it. This is a sign that lint is clogging the vent hose. You should start cleaning your dryer vent often enough that this buildup and discharge never occurs to begin with.
Other signs include clothes taking longer to dry, or clothes that have a burning smell or other odor on them when they leave the dryer. If your laundry room gets excessively hot, that's also a sign of a clogged vent in need of cleaning.
How Often Do You Need to Clean the Dryer Vent?
Check the lint screen before and after each cycle and clean vent itself at least once a year. The more often you use your dryer, the more often you should check and clean the vent. Think about the number of loads you do and the type of clothing you are putting into your dryer.
Clothing that is more prone to shedding and materials that are more flammable may call for a more frequent cleaning. Moreover, consider that the longer you go between cleaning the dryer vent, the more these materials can buildup and increase risk of fire.
Also, the longer you wait to clean out the vent, the further up these materials work themselves into the vent, which makes the cleaning process more difficult and time-consuming when you do get around to it.
For these reasons, while once a year cleaning is the bare minimum, opt for 2-4 times a year for the best results. Cleaning the vent once a season, or at least at the beginning and end of winter (when the dryer sees the most usage) is a best practice to help keep your family safe. And while you are thinking about your laundry, don’t forget about washing machine maintenance.
How to Clean Your Dryer Vent Yourself
Fortunately, if you keep up with the regular maintenance for your dryer, keeping the vent clean won't be difficult to do on your own. Keeping the lint screen clean will be the first step in preventing lint from accumulating in the vent in the first place. When it comes time to clean out the vent, follow these steps.
1. Disconnect the Dryer
Start by unplugging the dryer and locate the dryer vent at the back. If you have a gas dryer, turn off the gas valve. Pull the dryer away from the wall so you have room to work, being careful not to dislodge or damage gas line (if cleaning a gas dryer). Next, unhook any clamps or rings attaching the dryer to the vent. Also use this opportunity to double check your vent tubing. Dryer vents should use rigid 4" metal ducting. If your dryer is attached to vinyl or mylar foil tubing, it should be replaced immediately.
2. Vacuum Out the Vent
Use the hose attachment on your vacuum to clean both in and around the dryer vent. Some dryer vents can be detached from the wall as well as the dryer, making the process easier.
You will also need to head outside and locate the output for your dryer, which is where the vent directs the excess air coming from the dryer. Remove the cover so you have access to the vent tube and use the vacuum attachment here as well.
3. Brush Out the Vent
Use an extendable brush to get into the vent tube and clean out lint. Feed the brush into the duct and rotate it while moving it back and forth. This will help you reach further into the vent for a more thorough cleaning. You can purchase a DIY kit with the tools you need to clean the vent properly.
4. Reconnect the Dryer
Check dryer vent ducts for damage and replace damaged ducts before reconnecting the dryer if needed. Reattach external vent cover, plug electrical dryers back in, or turn the gas valve back on. Once the dryer is connected and repositioned, use the air-dry setting and run a short 15-20 minute cycle. This will help you check that you have properly connected everything, while dislodging any remaining lint and debris.
5. Take Steps to Avoid Lint Buildup
If you have not cleaned your dryer vent in some time, you will likely be amazed at the amount of lint you find inside. You can make the next cleaning easier on yourself by taking steps to reduce the amount of lint buildup.
- Clean lint trap after every use
- If lint screen appears clogged, vacuum or brush it for more thorough cleaning
- Sweep and dust area around dryer on a regular basis
- Keep area around external vent clear, and use vent cover to protect against debris and pests
When to Bring in a Professional
If you have a natural gas dryer, it's worth calling in a professional who can do the job right without risking a damaged or disconnected gas line. And, even if you have an electric dryer, sometimes a do-it-yourself kit just can't compare to the work of a professional.
Professionals will come into the home and be able to quickly and effectively clean out the vent, making sure to remove every piece of lint that could obstruct the flow of air and lead to a fire. They may use high-powered suction tools and other equipment.
This equipment can prove extremely time-saving and beneficial, particularly if your dryer is in an internal room, the basement level, or on a higher level. In these instances, the vent will be long and may have several curves, which could prevent you from properly cleaning it with a DIY kit.